Once upon a time, I spent 3 months living in a car because I had nowhere else to go. Yes, I had a job. I worked as a waitress every single day (my job for about ten years). And yet, my car became my home. Such is life sometimes. But I am grateful for that experience because it taught or retaught me some valuable life lessons. Here are three:
1. It re-emphasized for me the importance of empathy, which is really the most fundamental “people skill.” The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person is critical to public service. You have to be able to look at things from other people’s perspectives. You have to imagine yourself in their shoes—imagine how you would think, act, or feel if you shared their experience, knowledge, and beliefs. I have found this to be necessary (although often difficult) in my role in education—whether as an instructor or as an administrator. And the same holds true for life in public office.
2. It also re-emphasized for me the value of interdependence. We can’t do it all alone. Sometimes we need the help of other people, and we need to know that it’s ok to ask for help. We need to be aware of what resources are available to us and not be afraid to use them. In both my full-time job and in my job as a Council member, that’s incredibly important. We are stronger together: that’s why we have a Council with 7 people. The talents, skills, and abilities of each member contribute to the success of the body as a whole. Neither I nor any other Council member can do it alone. You can have all sorts of plans when you come into office, but none of those will ever get accomplished without the support of at least a majority of Council. That requires a great deal of working together. Additionally, so much of what we do at the municipal level is tied in with the County, the State, and even the Federal Government that strong relationships with people at those levels is important. And, really, if we want to achieve great things, we have to be willing to work not just with each other and those other government bodies but also with our city employees, our local businesses, local non-profits and community groups, and the citizens. It takes all of us working together to make Simpsonville great. That’s what the One Simpsonville vision was all about.
3. During those 3 months, I was robbed 3 times, once at gunpoint. I might have lost my faith in humanity. But the kindness of strangers really helped me pull through. Sometimes, it was just a kind word or smile. At other times, it was people allowing me to crash on a couch or borrow their shower. This solidified for me the importance of giving back to your community. And it’s probably one of the reasons why I have been in public service for my entire career, and one of the reasons I engage in regular community service, such as the time I spent as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem for children in foster care or the upcoming Women Build project for Habitat in Simpsonville (more on that soon!).
I went on to finish college and graduate school, and I worked the entire time: as a waitress, as a bank teller, as a tutor, as an administrative assistant, and in a warehouse assembling actuators and packaging them to ship. I never found myself without a real roof over my head again, but I’ll never forget what I learned from that short time I did.